Highlighting successes in housing, job creation, and efforts against homelessness in a booming Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh kicked off his re-election campaign at Florian Hall on Saturday.
“What I try to do is change people’s lives every day,” the mayor told those gathered in front of a stage on the blacktop outside the firefighter’s union hall on Hallet Street. “I don’t own this seat. This seat belongs to the city of Boston.”
Having set a goal of building 53,000 new units of housing by 2030, Walsh said 21,000 homes have been constructed in the city since he took office. Nearly 9,000 of the units are designated for low- and middle-income families, he said.
Walsh also said the city has eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans. As the population grows, he said, Boston has also added more than 60,000 jobs. He noted that his administration has presided over a AAA bond rating for four years in a row — a first in the city’s history.
But the city’s progress is taking place in an uneasy time, he said. “We talk about what’s happening in the city, and the state, and the country. We have to make sure we keep what’s happening in Boston strong, because of uncertainty in the nation. We don’t know what’s going to happen to housing, we don’t know what’s going to happen with immigration, we don’t know what’s going to happen with healthcare.
“It’s important for us to understand here in Boston and Massachusetts,” he said, “that we work to make sure that our people are taken care of.”
Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins endorsed and introduced Walsh, noting as he did that when Walsh was running for his first term, he said he would work with the sheriff’s office to end the opioid crisis and address mental health issues.
“He said it with conviction,” Tompkins said. It was “truthful and honest” and Walsh kept his word.
The launch was staged around a carnival-themed party that drew thousands on a warm Saturday afternoon who munched on hamburgers, hot dogs, and ice cream while kids played on inflatables slides and bouncy houses. A stilt-walker weaved around a magician as music pulsed loudly across the open lot.
A loop of the mayor’s campaign video played inside the hall, where seniors sat sheltered from the heat.
Longtime community activist and Dorchester resident Thelma Burns, 81, stood inside with Yvonne Jones, 70, of Mattapan, a retired educator and the newly elected head of ABCD. They said they hoped to see more funding go to the public schools, but believe Walsh to be committed to taking care of the elderly and the homeless.
“We think he’s knowledgeable about the city,” Burns said, “he’s knowledgeable about politics, and we have some questions that we want answered and we think he’ll answer them, about the elderly and the seniors and affordable housing, and education.”
As to the progress the city has made during Walsh’s first term, Burns said, “It’s a little slow. The process is slow, but I think he’s working on it.”
Jones seconded the sentiment. As lifelong Boston residents, she and Burns are patient but attentive when it comes to change from city leadership.
“I like Marty,” Jones said. “I like what he stands for. I also have watched what he’s been doing in our different communities in terms of trying to better our communities. And like anything else, it takes time to do it…. He’s not ignoring the fact that there are some needs in Boston. And I just like him as a person.”
Walsh’s top challenger, City Councillor Tito Jackson, has criticized him for inadequately responding to systemic violence and inequities, as well as underfunding the schools. Amid a recent spike in violence, Walsh acknowledged there’s more to be done to reach vulnerable youths and integrate responses between departments, but he said the city is heading broadly in the right direction.
“Look at the city three years ago and look at the city today,” Walsh said to reporters after the event. “You talk to the average person in the street, they’re going to say Boston’s an incredible city. We have more economic development than ever going, we’ve built more affordable housing than ever before, we’ve housed 1,100 homeless people, our unemployment rate is 3.2 percent – you tell me that’s a bad city.”
City Councillor Frank Baker, who represents Dorchester’s District 3, introduced other elected officials at the event. He said that Walsh makes decisions based on an instinctive sense of what’s best for the city and its residents. He highlighted new libraries, park renovations, and “places for people to come together and build on community.”
Added Baker: “There’s places around the country [where] they don’t have communities like we have in Boston. We’re living in the hub of the universe. We do it right here. We do it better than anybody else in the country, and it’s because of leadership like Martin Walsh.”